Control. The thing that's been the core of my existence for as long as I can remember. I tried to control everything around me, at least the parts that would affect me. If I got into a fight at school, I had the control to ensure I didn't start it, never took the first swing. And if someone else did I had the will to guarantee I never lost. I controlled every emotion I may have had about Todd being the big fucking hero while we were growing up, while I got to be the afterthought. And when dad moved us wholesale, ignoring the fact that we weren't ready after a loss we were too young to comprehend, marrying again within a year and a half, producing another sibling I loved, but never quite understood? I sat on that too. And of us two? When he always focused more on the son who was mobile, who could still run and laugh and play, who didn't become silent and watchful? Control the outbursts, appear indifferent. So discovering that something was totally off-beam, realizing I wanted what Todd was entitled to and I shouldn't have even been thinking about was the biggest test of all. But I did what I expected of myself. I controlled it.
But in the end as you know, I couldn't even do that very well. So I found myself in this surprisingly pretty good hotel staring down at the shiny blackness of the instrument in my hand, not knowing quite what the hell to do with it. I had that control. I could punch in ten numbers and have her right there on the other end. By the same token I could choose not to and just sit here looking at the screen until sleep or boredom took over. To tell you the truth I didn't know what the fuck to do. I was hurting for Kate in a way I never had before, not even when I realized last year exactly what I wanted from her. So why did I feel so goddamn empty now I'd had it? It was more than that. It was always more than that. I'd been more than half in love with Kate since I was thirteen years old. Even if that iron control never let me acknowledge that was what it was until last night. I was downright petrified of what would happen now.
It was still pissing down rain outside, a thunderstorm fast approaching. That suited my mood. Reflection and rain always did go hand in hand for me, I had time to stare out the window and remember, to try and figure out what the fuck had just happened and maybe to also figure out why. I mean not why as in the reason for it happening, because that's fucking obvious even to a doofus like me. I simply couldn't sit on it for one second longer, knowing Kate was partly right in her judgement. What he did, god I'd die to show you I'd never do that to you. I do recall thinking that when I found out. But then I also wanted to find the stupid hairy fuck and smack him one too. I mean more about what's led me up to this moment, how I always had to be different, what made me set on Kate when god knows life would have been a shitload easier now if I hadn't started to feel strange and embarrassed that day on the sand almost five years ago. Why could I never take the smoother road? Why was it so ass-bustingly difficult to assimilate, to fit right on in, like Todd could? Why the hell couldn't I do that? 78 minutes, that's the difference between us. Just over an hour with me probably kicking and screaming and Todd almost certainly making his way into the world as effortlessly as he did everything else. We were so close growing up. Shared blood, shared play, dreams, fights and finally Kate. In a way that he probably never thought of. It's kinda' creepy and more than a little disconcerting, that line of thought. And there were other memories, on and off. Ghosts that were always lurking behind this cold green stare. Suppressed, some real, some embellished by time. But always there, even when I hadn't recognized them in years. I felt the one I'd been ignoring the most come rising up unwanted like a flood of bile in my throat; the one only I could know, because I was the only one who was there. Eleven years ago, doing my utmost to give my mother the shits. I couldn't control it, had no strength left to push it back down inside…
"But I don't want to play netball. I hate netball. Why can't I play footy like Todd?"
"Be reasonable Lauren." I will always remember that about her, she never ever spoke to us like we were children. She talked calmly, quietly and used words like reasonable. To a six year old. And if we asked her what that meant so much the better. A new thing to be learnt.
"You know your father doesn't want you to play football."
"Other girls do. Why can't I? I loathe netball." Another new word I'd picked up thanks to mum.
"Your neck is too long. You could get hurt in a tackle." But I knew that was bullshit. Under 7's didn't play tackle anyway. So I persisted. I really did find netball pathetic.
"Todd's neck's just as long."
"Lauren." She looked down at me, smiling, but something in her face telling me not to push it further. But I recall not being happy with that and breaking away from her, sprinting across the road to the car park of the shitty little sports ground. And bleating something about my father letting Todd do what he wanted while I had to do what I was expected to. What girls were supposed to do. Voicing loudly how I thought that sucked. I heard the engine roar. It's funny how I still remember the sensation of watching in slow motion, too young to understand meaning, but knowing. Realizing. 'She's coming after me. There's a car, mum look around stop, wait.' I tried to shout a warning, nothing came out. Slow motion. Lime green, she crossed the road toward me, not looking for oncoming. A lime green commodore. "MUM!" I finally managed to scream. Her head turned. Too late. What happened next I'll never forget, like something from a bad nightmare. Nightmares I had every time I closed my fucking eyes for years. People aren't designed to be flung that far in the air. And that sound, that fucking ungodly, unearthly sound. You couldn't replicate it, but I can call it up right now and know I'll hear it 'till the day I die. I remember crying like I was trying to drown myself from it, running over to her warm, breathless body. "Mum?" Shaking her, thumping her chest.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, glaring up into the face of a young guy, stubble marred by the vomit he'd deposited on the pavement next to me. Next to mum. He was crying too. It wasn't his fault. It was mine. She'd come after me. I blamed myself. I was being a little arsehole and she came after me instinctively without bothering to check traffic. I could still feel the heat of the head under my hand, the devastated head that would not stop leaking and that no amount of tears or self-hatred would bring back. Because I did hate myself. I blamed myself. And two weeks later, my dad's hand on Todd's shoulder as I stood alone amongst the greenery, trying to hide from the people who weren't trying to find me. From then, deep down I always knew dad did too.
"Fuck!" I found myself screaming, bolting upright and choking on the tears I couldn't bring to an end. Up my nose, in my mouth, running down onto my shirt. "Jeez! What the fuck's going on? Where the fuck did that come from?!" I got up and pounded my fist into the wardrobe without any attention to possible consequences, watching in blind rage and pain as it sailed right through the door. But I didn't stop. It felt like sulfuric acid was streaming down my face, burning, purging. I pulled out, balled my hands into fists once more and stood still for a second, gathering the dark inside me. Then I threw my head back, punched the wardrobe again and yelled out every obscenity that came to mind, collapsing after a minute or so back on the bed which sounded out a loud protest at the sudden intrusion of my not inconsiderable weight. I took a few deep breaths, wiped the blood off my wrist onto my shirt and that did it. I snapped. Control could have bitten me in the arse at this point and I wouldn't have recognized it.
"Aaargh!" Go ahead then Lauren. Throw the luggage against a wall, kick the crap out of the knife case at your feet while you're about it. I wanted to howl until my lungs gave in. I wanted to be Lauren the fucking six year old kid who deserved the opportunity to grieve. But I never gave myself that chance, he never gave me it and for some silly fucking cosmic joke of a reason I had to find out right now, with a million other things on my mind, that it was something I had to do.
"Fuck it, fuck it, fuck all of it! Goddammnit, fuck this! Why now?" It was like I was back on the beach yesterday, holding arms up to the sky. Or ceiling in this case. Kate. Oh hell Kate. I was whispering to myself, looking down at that damned phone, wishing I could have told her of this years ago, realizing that she's probably known it was simmering for just as long.
"I need you so much now." And Mick, I totally hate you for being so right about that you bastard. Eleven friggin' years and I choose now to feel how much it hurt, how lost and alone I've felt ever since. Now. Christ. But it's true. I picked up the phone.
"I need you." The admission was wounding, even though I said it only to myself, but nonetheless ab-so-fucking-lutely spot on. And one more realization chilled me to the center of whatever soul I had. I paused mid-dial. Oh fuck I'd never felt so unwanted, unloved, so alone in my entire pathetic life. It never mattered before. Every cell in my body was longing for her, aching for her. How the fuck could I tell her what had happened here?
"But you don't need my baggage." I closed my eyes to slits and peered out hatefully at the stupid fucking arsewipe of a thing, not sure now whether to call her or not. I loved her. I didn't want to destroy her with all this garbage. Fuck it all. I keyed in a few more numbers…
Mum, totally unconcerned with Mick's presence in the house, made us all her usual jasmine tea and chatted amiably with him about Saturday, happy as hell to have the burden of cooking taken off her shoulders, only occasionally glancing over at me with a quizzical expression. She knew something was on my mind. Thankfully, she didn't know just what. Sarah padded down softly next to me as they chatted in the kitchen.
"Todd tells me you stayed over last night." Erk.
"Yeah. We went out."
"Had a few?"
"Um." I shrugged, embarrassed. I didn't know what would be worse. Her telling me off for letting Lauren get a beer in her hands, or asking me if I'd driven home still under the influence. Well technically yeah I would have been miles over the limit, but I can assure the world I was completely sober by the time I started the ute up again. Oh god, I remember. Lauren. I remember.
"It's ok." She touched my hand. "I did all those things too." Those things we did last night? Somehow I doubt it.
"I just wanted to ask how she was."
"Fine I guess. You know, typical Lauren stuff. She didn't want to go anyway. I talked her into it."
"I'm glad. I worry about that kid you know." I raised an eyebrow up at her.
"You're glad we went out drinking?" She smiled.
"I'm glad you're her friend. You know Lauren in a way I don't think many people do. She needs that." I know Lauren in a way that only one other person ever has Sarah, if you'd care to know that. No. Not strictly true. And another thing you probably don't want to know is that I resent it surprisingly bitterly, that it wasn't me. I thought I knew her like a second skin.
"Alan loves her, but he never quite understands what to do with her. I think he's grateful for your presence as much as I am."
"Aw don't..." I managed to stutter, on the verge of telling her exactly what Lauren and I got up to between the beers last night and somehow seeing in her eyes that she's already got a pretty good idea. I hang my head down and feel her hand on my back.
"It's alright." I looked up quickly at her and then stared away, focusing on Mick fumbling with his ringing phone. I didn't want to talk about it anymore, at least not today. I had a feeling that there'd be more talking about it then we could handle before too long. Choosing neither to confirm nor deny anything to Sarah I walked over to the kitchen, to the safety of Mick. Mum had her head in the fridge; Mick had retreated quietly into the laundry. I propped my butt on the sink and looked at him. He shook his head and pointed to the phone against his ear. My whole body stretched itself taut for some reason. I strained to listen.
"And then you did what? Ok, calm down, calm down. Is your arm alright?" He glanced at me briefly, worried. I wondered what the hell was going on; I didn't like the ominous feeling brewing in my stomach. He listened in silence for a few minutes and then he sighed loudly. "Oh hell kid, I wish I'd known that before now." And I knew at once who he was talking to. He motioned for me to come closer and held the phone out a little. I could hear her voice, small and tinny, but definitely hers.
"…And I couldn't make it stop. It was like shaking a can for twenty minutes before you open it and then when I did open it all I could see was that fucking car and… Mick…" She paused. "I don't know where it came from, hadn't thought about mum for years and all of a sudden it was there in my fucking face." Now that was new. I'd never heard her ever talk about her mum, even in passing. I knew from Todd that Lauren had been there when it happened of course. But it was not a subject she ever brought up and certainly not one I was going to broach with her. I'm not that dumb. Far out, what's she got herself going through now?
"Quick analysis Lauren?" Mick tapped the side of his forehead. Lauren did say that about him once, that he did that a lot with her when faced with a thorny problem or something she couldn't understand at work. The patented Mick quick-fix two sentence analysis. Giving her a summary and letting her figure the rest out. Actually he'd been doing that with me all afternoon as well.
"Please." I heard her gulp. Shit. She'd been bawling again. And I should have been there to listen.
"Two things. One, you probably feel like you've caused something catastrophic again yes?" He nodded. "But I'm not saying what happened then was in any way your fault. Because it wasn't. Life sucks as you often inform me, but it happens regardless. It wasn't your fault." Huh? What the hell was he talking about?
"Two," He continued. "What I said to you on the beach might have stirred up a few things."
"I remember." She barked. "That thought had occurred to me as well. I hate it when you're right."
"It's your ball kid." He shrugged. "You picked it up. You have to decide whether to run with it or put it back down. But I'll tell you now that you can't just put it down. It doesn't work that way. Life's not fair Lauren. It's the measure of you as to whether you go on to score the goal or you choke. Yes it's hard, I know that. But kid you have to allow yourself the space to be a human being. You're not a robot. I would have thought you knew that now."
"I know. But Mick?"
"Being human's a bit over-rated to me at this point if it's gonna hurt this fucking much." And then it started again, panting choking sobs coming through the wire. "I put my fist through a fucking wardrobe door for Christ's sake! Does that sound like the action of a rational human being to you? I don't fucking think so."
"Good god Lauren, did you join the marines while you were in the city? I've never heard that word used so many times in the space of ten seconds." I think he's being a smart-arse. I think. But she's laughing slightly, still crying too though.
"Point. Oh screw it all though Mick. I feel so shitty. I just don't understand why it had to all come out now."
"You do though Lauren, you know you do, and you also know you'll feel a whole load better tomorrow. I can guarantee it. It's about time you got that out." Lauren snickered.
"I seem to have a habit of getting stuff out lately. Hope to fuck I don't have any more surprises left in the tank." Mick drew me in closer to the phone.
"So what are you going to do now? Please tell me it won't involve anything in a can."
"I was gonna go find a newsagent's, buy some books, try to find some decent calzone, come back here and flop. But I did think about finding a pub."
"Not a great idea Lauren."
"Duh Mick, I know that. Otherwise I'd already be in one. I know I probably need to be by myself, but fuck it; I just don't want to be. I feel so friggin' alone." And that lost, plaintive tinge to her tone makes me say it before Mick can warn me not to.
"But you're not." Silence. I heard her sucking in her breath. Mick rolls his eyes, but throws back his shoulders in acquiescence and hands the phone to me anyway, giving up, moving off to distract mum and Mrs Butcher. I take its weight freely. "And you never were Lauren."
"I was always here." She said. When my head cleared from the shock of having Kate on the phone I found I felt two things. A great deal of relief and gratitude for her voice, but something a little muddier and angrier as well. And what was I supposed to do with that knowledge? I wanted to ask. Even when you were pashing my brother? When you were asking me, of all people what the hell was in his head? Were you there then Kate? Would you have wanted to know me then? Because I couldn't have told you one without the other. They're tied up more closely than I could have thought. But it occurs to me that a lot of that comes from my own damn resentment and isn't her fault at all. Lauren you idiot, she was only doing what generally normal adolescents do, how the fuck was Kate going to know what was in your brain? And that you weren't normal in the slightest? Give her a break; she's got enough to think about now. I jam the phone in closer to my ear and exhale.
"I know that Kate."
"Do you?" She sounded immensely skeptical.
"There were a lot of things I probably should have talked about before this week."
"That's no small understatement." Hey now, why does she sound cranky with me? What did I do? I try to explain it to her.
"But given that opening up by and large was never my thing and also that if I had I'd probably have ended up confessing about my colossal desire to snog you, you know it's kind of understandable that I never took you up on all those times you asked me what was wrong." She laughs and it's wonderful to hear, but a piss-poor substitute for being there to see it. Then she started whispering.
"This is an awfully big thing to carry alone Lauren. I wish you'd told me."
"Bigger than the last two days? I carried that for a while too."
"Well yeah… It changed your life. I would have liked to have known."
"Understood." I didn't know what to say next. She had a good point, but I'd like to think I did too.
"But I still don't really understand what's upset you so Lauren. I've kind of got the gist of it but…" And I can feel my throat backing up again, thickening and seeming as if any words that are in there are caught up in congealing emotions. Half of me's happy that she's not next to me to see me about to blubber again, the other half dying to just be held, to admit that I need it. And I mean it's not like I can't trust her, but letting out what you've held in most of your life isn't exactly a straightforward task. You did it last night Lauren. True enough. I decide to start talking.
"It's pretty full on Kate."
"I can handle it." Ok, then. So I told her. All of it. All the stored memories and fears and guilt and exactly what happened on that day, punctuated only by me pausing to swallow down a few more tears. I told her how alone I felt, how useless this repressed grief seemed to be. Kate didn't say a word. And Mick was right; I did feel a shitload better. She was quiet for a very, very long time afterwards. So silent I thought she may have hung up. Then I heard her sniffle and when she spoke, it was with infinite determination.
"I'm coming up Lauren. Now."
"Don't argue with me, does your hotel have parking?"
"Didn't check. Kate, you shouldn't come…"
"You don't want to see me?" She sounded a bit hurt. "But I thought you'd…"
"Hey Kate no it's not like that." I tried to soften my voice, to try and convey with words just how much I'd like to see her. It's damn hard to do that. "I can think of nothing better at this moment than to have you with me. Honestly." And to touch that incredible hair, let it fall around my face, breathe it in. Oh yeah, that'd be good. Argh no, I have to be stronger than this. And she has to understand why.
"Then why say no Lauren? Can't I feel alone too?" She asks. "Can't I want to see you?" There's a small inhalation at the other end. "I might wish you were with me too you know." It nearly cracks my resolve to let her alone for this week to think about what Saturday night brought. "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to stay here knowing what you're feeling? Even if yesterday hadn't happened I'd still want to come up."
"Yeah." I agree. "I know you would. I would too. But I probably wouldn't listen to any arguments you used to try and dissuade me."
"So say you don't mind then Lauren, because I'm coming anyway." Yes! No. Be fucking sensible Lauren, it'll raise more drama than you've already got flying around in your head.
"Kate…" I begin.
"I'm going to go out there right now and tell them I'll be back tomorrow Lauren. You're not going to change my mind."
"What are you going to say then? Huh? Are you going to tell them that I've suddenly decided to start bawling every five minutes? Do you think anyone's going to believe that? Are you going to tell them why? What happened last night? Because it will end up coming out if you do. You know that. Look,"
"I have to make my own decisions in this too Lauren, you can't do it for me. So unless you tell me now you don't want to see me, I'll be on the road in ten." A huge rush of anticipation shot through me. Inside two hours she could be here in my arms. "Tell me you don't need me now and I'll stay." Shit Kate, did you have to put it like that? I could no more say that then I could breathe underwater.
"I do," I admit quietly. Will she ever know how much that cost me? "I really do, but…"
"So it's settled. I'm coming." She stated determinedly, but I cut her off.
"There's a lot of other things to consider in this is all I'm saying. As much as I'd like it to, the world doesn't revolve around us." She sniffed again.
"It felt like it last night."
"Sure did." I have to agree. "But think about it for a second Kate. What's your mum gonna say? Sarah? Mick?"
"Mick'll go off the deep end."
"Yeah. He will. You know why?" She sounded so far away when she replied, oh god it was so hard to try and talk her out of driving up here, 'cause I sure as hell wanted her to, at least on the inside.
"Sarah sure as hell will if the probing questions she's been asking for the past few months are any guide." Kate swore softly. "What?"
"That explains a lot, she was trying it on with me earlier." Instantly I wanted to tell her to get in the damned car and come up, where she'd be safe, where I could shelter her from the storm that was to come. Knowing it'd come regardless of what went on between us anyway, so what the fuck right? Let's do it now. You know I didn't though. She was right; I couldn't make her decisions for her.
"What happened?" I managed to offer cautiously.
"Oh she was talking about how her and your dad were happy we were mates and all, like I was stopping you from going bananas or something." Well actually Kate, now that you mention it. She snorted. "Apart from the times I was obviously driving you bananas of course."
"Heheheh, that's pretty funny Kate."
"But true, right?"
"Oh hell yes."
"I thought she was going to have a go at me for asking you to, gasp, have a beer with me, but she seemed glad for it. It was mega weird Lauren. Then she told me that she did the whole underage drinking thing herself and…" Kate coughed. "She's got some idea Lauren, I don't know if it's the whole picture she's seeing, but she knows something. She rubbed my back and said it was alright and when I looked at her, I just knew she knew, you know?" Fuck, goddammnit, I should be there to help, I should be. "And mum's been shooting me funny looks all afternoon. I think it's got a lot to do with me being so insistent on coming into town with you guys."
"You did kind of make a scene when she wanted you to stay and help her."
"You're not happy I did?"
"After that snog in the car? I'm certainly not unhappy, but I don't think it's about you, I mean I don't think you need to worry. Sarah's just trying to get someone to confirm to her what she already believes about me. She's just fishing, that's all and your mum just had the shits with you."
"You think she knows about you being…" Kate trailed off, I sususpected that actually saying it was a bit much for her at this point. It'd make her question everything all over again. If I did that, what I did with you, and you're… Inside she'll be like Well what the fuck am I? And I have no way of making that better for her. I wish I did.
"And your mum does too I reckon." Well that probably won't do it Lauren you great doofus. She's not gonna go halle-fucking-lujah, about time I sorted that out, like you.
"Shit Lauren, how can they have guessed when I never did?"
"You didn't? Even in a weird sort of way?" She makes this noncommittal noise and waits for me to keep going. "Well, I guess I wasn't doing anything that appeared different to you, but for them, considering that I've never shown the slightest trace of heterosexuality in my life, I'm not surprised they're starting to ask questions. Hell, I'm surprised it didn't start earlier." She doesn't talk for ages and I'm frantically thinking of anything to say to re-assure her. "But I guess a lot of what you said last night is true too."
"Which part?" She laughed, sounding kinda' stressed.
"The bit about labels. Maybe they're not all that important at the end of the day. We're still the people we were a week ago."
"Our families aren't going to see it that way are they?"
"The important thing is that you do, but no. They're not. Whatever we decide, it won't be easy. Remember talking about it in the driveway last night?"
"It seemed so much clearer when you were here with me Lauren." She was unsure, hell so was I and we were as bad as each other in terms of doing what was sensible. I would've given up ten years of breathing to be next to her and we already know she's on the verge of leaping in the ute. "I still want to come up though."
"Even knowing what it might mean?"
"Yeah Lauren, that's the strange part; even knowing that, I still want to come. I don't like the thought of you being alone with all the crap that's surfaced and it's stronger than any fear I might feel. I want to see you. I can't deny it." My god, it's so painful hearing that, agonizing. She wants to help me get over this, when I should be helping her with what I've left her with. Comes back to everything drilled into me since birth really. Honour. Commitment. Finishing what you start. Duty. Where's the space for love in that? But it's there and it hurts like a chainsaw. I hate you Mick Preston; I sincerely and utterly hate you for this other thing I feel. What have I done to her life? Never thought about that responsibility did you boofy? One day, that man's gonna be wrong about something and oh, will I enjoy that. "But I won't." She finishes. "Don't worry."
"Don't worry? Bloody hell Kate for the past 5 minutes I've been biting my lip to stop from begging you to."
"Oh Lauren," So softly. "You're right though."
"I know, that's what sucks about it." And then we both went quiet, ignoring my shrinking by the second recharge card. I laughed. "You know, I'm gonna have to go find a shop soon."
"So I can buy another pre-pay card for this phone. I've probably gone thru the twenty bucks already." Kate shrieked in my ear.
"You're on a mobile? You bought a phone? Lauren, dammnit you should have said so, we've been talking for ages."
"There was kind of a lot of other stuff on my mind. And talking to you is a damn sight more important than how much money I'm spending." More silence. Then she took a deep breath.
"I miss you." Whoa. That rocked the carpet under my feet. The room was spinning.
"I miss you too." It was all I could think of to say. The truth.
"I don't know what it means but I do." And I only know what I hope it means.
"Still no regrets Kate?"
"No. You?" Well… a few tough moments coming that I don't know how to avert, but regrets? After that?
"I can't help feeling there should be, but..."
"I keep remembering Lauren. What you were like. How you made me feel. I can't regret that."
"Yeah. I know." I was tempted to blurt out something incredibly silly about how much I loved her, how much I needed her. Quite thankfully I managed to hold my tongue.
"You better go before that card cuts out. I can't think of anything worse than getting shut off mid-conversation."
"I was originally going to call you about 11 you know, when you were reading in bed. Mick threw a bit of a spanner in those works; I thought he'd have been home by now."
"You could still call me." She invited. "Shit, mum just stuck her head around the corner."
"Will you be alright?"
"Yeah." And you know what the weird thing is? I mean it. I think I will be. "Will you?"
"As long as I get that phone call." Heheheh, try and stop me baby.
"You will." It nearly killed me to do it but I said goodbye eventually and hung up. Then instead of sulking in my room and going crazy, I went down to the city, bought some books, managed to find a couple of huge, decent-looking calzones, and came back to eat, read and raid the mini bar until 11. Mick hadn't said I couldn't do that.
Wow, that was bloody meaty. Didn't mean for it to be that long! I just couldn't stop the train. And this was always going to be more in-depth and far less fluffy than the other one anyway. (Bit arrogant of me to presume anyone's reading this right? =;-) )
It's darker too, I know. Sorry. I hope it was still ok even with the shift in attitude. R/R? Please? Pretty please? Heheheh.